After an injury forced Kyoji Horiguchi to vacate the bantamweight championship, Bellator will crown a new 135-pound champion on Saturday at Bellator 246. In the night's main event, Patrick "Patchy" Mix will face off with Juan Archuleta with the vacant title on the line (Paramount Network/DAZN, 10 p.m. ET).
New York's Mix (13-0) is one of the sport's most intriguing prospects in the promotion. He has finished his eight most recent fights, seven of those finishes coming via submission. Adding to his already impressive record as a professional, Mix was also undefeated as an amateur. Mix made his Bellator debut in June 2019 and has since scored three first-round submissions -- one coming in Rizin -- to land himself in a bout with Archuleta.
Archuleta (24-2) had an 18-fight winning streak snapped in September 2019, losing an opening-round fight in the Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix to 145-pound champion Patricio Pitbull. After rebounding with a win over Henry Corrales in January, Archuleta gets a second shot at a championship at his home within the bantamweight division. Archuleta has a 6-1 record in the Bellator cage.
The fight between the two was originally targeted for July when Archuleta tested positive for COVID-19, which he admitted to MMAjunkie that he believed the pandemic was a hoax until he was personally affected.
"I was the type of person that didn't believe in this," Archuleta said. "But it's like, 'I'm healthy, I'm not going to catch this, this thing is a hoax.' And then catching it is like, kind of sets you back, and I started experiencing the symptoms, and I'm like man, I don't want my give my kids this. ... I had all symptoms besides throwing up. Other than that, the chest pressure, the swollen neck, the sore throat, felt like a strep throat, the body chills, body pain, just everything. It was one of the craziest sicknesses that I've ever dealt with."
In the co-main event, Neiman Gracie is back in action when he takes on former UFC welterweight contender Jon Fitch. Gracie saw his unbeaten record fall at the hands of former champion Rory MacDonald in his last appearance in June 2019 by decision. He had won his last seven with the promotion since 2015 with six of those victories coming by submission. Fitch, meanwhile, is unbeaten since 2014 with his last fight ending a in majority draw against MacDonald.
Saturday night also marks the Bellator MMA debut for Liz Carmouche when she takes on Deanna Bennett at 125 pounds. Carmouche, who challenged for the UFC flyweight title in her most recent outing and lost to Valentina Shevchenko, has worked with Bellator CEO Scott Coker in the past when he promoted Strikeforce, making the new contract a no brainer. Carmouche is 4-2 in her last six fight and her last eight have gone the distance.
- Patchy Mix -180 vs. Juan Archuleta +155, bantamweight championship
- Jon Fitch -110 vs. Neiman Gracie -110, welterweights
- Liz Carmouche -800 vs. Deanna Bennett +550, women's flyweights
- Keoni Diggs -135 vs. Derek Campos +115, lightweights
The sport is not always kind to prospects in their big jumps in both competition and visibility. One only need look to Edmen Shahbazyan being bludgeoned by Derek Brunson in their UFC clash in August. Make no mistake, Archuleta is a big step up for Mix. But Mix is a truly dangerous fighter as a big, strong 27-year-old with a ground game that simply overwhelms opponents. Archuleta is an experienced fighter and one who isn't likely to get overwhelmed by the moment. If he can manage to drag the fight to the later rounds, it's possible Mix will fade, but Archuleta wasn't able to step on the gas and force Pitbull off his gameplan in their featherweight title clash.
The fight largely comes down to whether Archuleta can manage to keep himself upright and turn the fight into a striking battle. Mix says his striking game is legit and he simply hasn't had to show it because fighters can't stop his takedowns, but there's little doubt that the ground game is where he truly shines. All that said, it's hard to see Archuleta consistently stopping Mix from putting him on the ground, and once it's there, the fight will be all Mix. Pick: Mix via second-round submission